A Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday before Advent
Readings: Micah iii.5-12, Ps. 43, 1 Thess ii.9-13, Matt xxiv.1-14
We live in a turbulent age – an age characterised by an eroding of old certainty, an exalting of doubt and scepticism, the fragmenation of structures, institutional cynicism and a lack of clear understanding about human destiny and purpose. Violation and murder in the guise of summary justice replaces due process. Economic systems are on the brink of collapse. Those who seek to point the effects of this on the poorest and most vulnerable are met by prevarication and double standards by a cathedral community, instead of being welcomed as a vital witness to the values of the Kingdom which Jesus gave his life to inaugurate. I can’t help but feel that Richard Dawkins’ task just got a lot easier. We are in the midst of what David Ford refers to as an overwhelming – a sense that there’s just too much going on, too much to deal with in our vocational lives before God – that, as we kneel in humility before him with the wounds of the world on our hearts, there is just so much on which to focus.
I believe that it is at times like this that the world is sustained by people like you – by your witness, by your prayers, by your very presence and all for which that presence stands. I suggest that whilst none of us know the future, still less about the ‘end of the age’ – something way above our pay scale in the Divine Economy – it remains the case that this morning’s gospel is particularly disturbing. Famines, Earthquakes, the leading astray of people, the growing cold of human love. And Jesus, in providing not the most appetising analysis of the big picture, reminds us of the need to endure – to ‘keep calm and carry on’.
Perhaps this begins with a renewed understanding of God’s dominion in our hearts and lives – that within this order, we are not the ones, can never be the ones, who are in control. All is within God’s providence, and therefore – ultimately – all is well. This in turn enlivens the grace of humility in our hearts – a true understanding of who we are before God. And, even in the face of the overwhelming of events, we are recalled to our vocation of contemplation and prayer, upon which so much depends in a time of spiritual turbulence. May God enrich us with renewed blessings in this Holy Eucharist, and enable us to grow deeper, reach further, and look higher for his Name’s sake. And may that blessing enable us to pray fervently, with the needs of creation and its ordering in our hearts, that we may see clearly the path along which the Lord Jesus invites us as we sit at table with him.
Vice-Principal, St. Stephen’s House, Oxford
A Sermon preached to the Sisters of the Love of God, Fairacres, Oxford, on 30 October 2011